“And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12). How, you ask, can one hope to attain to the Kingdom by means of violence? It seems to me the problem can be reduced to the apparent conflict between jiriki and tariki, to use the (Japanese) Buddhist terms—that is, between “self-power” and “Other-power”.

I call this conflict “apparent”, because in fact these seemingly opposite powers are two sides of a single coin. Christianity, grosso modo, is a religion in which “Other-power” is stressed, especially in Protestant circles: the grace of God alone is the cause salvation, and all human effort or “work” is seen as Pelagian in character. Nonetheless, it’s very clear in the Scriptures that man is still called to struggle, to engage in what the Fathers call “unseen warfare” and Islam the “greater jihad“.

As you know, we Orthodox capture this complementary opposition with the idea of synergeia—”co-operation” or “co-working” (1 Corinthians 3:9)—and the ascetical tradition is consistently insistent in stressing that the human “side” of this operation entails a sort of “violence”.

You may object that this violence is to be directed toward the demons, or perhaps toward one’s ego, and not toward Heaven. It seems to me, however, that this is a case of needlessly splitting hairs. In saying the Kingdom can be taken by “storm” or by “violence”, the Scriptures are simply speaking elliptically, as they so often do, underscoring in their own way the importance of spiritual combat.